Eyewitness News is now on channel 4 AND channel 5
Driven by the recession, competing local television stations are beginning to do the once unthinkable: sharing their video and even their on-air talent.
As revenues have declined, masses of reporters, cameramen, producers and assignment editors have been let go, leading stations in nearly a dozen media markets to pool resources.
Newsroom management may become more centralized in these markets, said Julie Holley, a former TV news producer. It may be possible to have one story appear on two stations by approaching one assignment editor. She warns, though, that shared-content stations should be contacted only once, or you risk being perceived as a spammer.
Holley, now managing editor of the Vocus Television Team, worries that shared-content stations could erode the depth of television news reporting even further. With less manpower covering fewer story angles, she wonders if viewers can count on locally pooled TV news for fair coverage. “There’s one less voice in these markets,” she said. “There’s a chance they’ll miss a piece of information.”
The trend has now come to the nation’s largest media market, New York. On Monday, four major stations announced they have formed an LNS (local news service) to pool video newsgathering. The TV stations, Fox-owned WNYW, NBC-owned WNBC, CBS-owned WCBS and Tribune-owned WPIX (CW), said the rest of their news operations would remain independent.
Last month, four of Chicago’s largest stations banded together to provide pool coverage of general news events such as press conferences and local sports. Several TV stations in Cleveland (including WCMH, WSYX, WTTE, WOIO and WKYC) have done the same. The stations now rely on just one crew to go out and cover the region’s routine news events.
In an April news release, Scripps and Fox also announced that its stations in Detroit, Phoenix and Tampa, Fla., are participating in an LNS. Scripps and Fox said the pool arrangements will free reporters at each station to pursue greater amounts of enterprise and investigative journalism across media platforms. “We’ll now have the resources to deliver that content with deeper storytelling and richer context,” said Scripps’ senior vice president of television Brian Lawlor in the release.
Three separately owned stations in Dallas are now sharing newsgathering resources. Fox owned-KDFW-TV, NBC-owned KXAS-TV, and Tribune-owned KDAF-TV (CW) formed an LNS in early May and are now regularly sharing video. KDFW and KXAS even began sharing a news chopper in January.
In addition to sharing video content via pools, stations are combining newsrooms and on-air personnel. At times, newscasts on different stations mimic each other and run similar stories. It’s been legal for media companies to own two or more television stations, a “duopoly,” in the same market since 1999. During the recession, it is becoming not uncommon for these joint ventures to share staff.
And there is speculation in the blogosphere and among media observers that The Tribune Company, which has filed for bankruptcy and is the owner of 23 TV stations and 12 newspapers, may soon outsource all its TV news operations. NBC-owned WCAU-TV already produces newscasts for Tribune’s WPHL-TV (MyNetworkTV); both stations broadcast to the Philadelphia area.
Jill Geisler, who advises newsroom managers for the well-known Poynter Institute, blogs that the pools present a variety of risks for TV news managers and staff, including dilution of coverage. The pools are designed to cover scheduled events, which may lead savvy media relations professionals to arrange more of them. She warns assignment editors, though, to be wary of professional spinners staging blatant publicity stunts to take advantage of the needs of video-hungry pools.
It’s up to the news staff to turn the risks into opportunities. “I’d like to think that the news directors who have launched news sharing agreements know and care about these risks. That they talk about values and vigilance with their staffs. That they exercise the kind of leadership necessary to prove that pool coverage can make sense,” she blogged.
–Researched by Stacey Acevero & Chanelle Sirmons
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